Website accessibility compliance – the state of observing and following all accessibility laws and regulations that apply to your website – should be an overall goal for your organization.
Why is Website Accessibility Compliance Important?
Americans who go online currently own, on average, at least three web-connected devices such as laptops, tablets, or smartphones, according to market research company GlobalWebIndex. Research from the Pew Research Center, which reported in 2015 that eight in 10 people in the U.S. make purchases using one of these devices, has now found that almost 30 percent of American adults don’t use cash for any of their transactions.
Increasingly, consumers rely on digital experiences with brands to conduct business and make buying decisions. A sizable number of these consumers have disabilities.
Legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities has gradually become more extensive and more relevant to digital experiences, reaching into all areas of day-to-day activities to ensure there are no barriers. Ensuring website accessibility compliance means meeting the requirements of the law that are set in place to fully meet the diverse needs of all people, including those with disabilities who interact with your company digitally.
What is Web Accessibility?
Disabilities can affect the way someone gets around in their community – they may use wheelchairs, for instance, or service animals. But disabilities can also affect the way someone navigates their digital environment, for example:
Someone who doesn’t have full use of their hands may not be able to use a mouse or trackball. They may use a keyboard or voice input instead.
Someone with a vision disability may not be able to see the text that appears on their computer screen. They may rely on a screen reader to read the words out loud.
A website is considered to be accessible when steps have been taken to ensure there aren’t barriers, or any existing barriers are removed, that might prevent these individuals from interacting with the website.
The world population of people with disabilities is growing. In fact, the actual prevalence of disability is also going up, in part because we’re living longer. The rates of certain chronic health conditions that can cause disabilities, such as cardiovascular disease, are also increasing.
The number of individuals with disabilities is quite substantial – in fact, it’s now one in four adult Americans – which makes website accessibility compliance more important than ever.
Additionally, an accessible website is a way to attract a vast consumer group to your online presence, ensuring they have a quality experience on your website while you introduce them to your products or services. With more than a third of U.S. households including someone who self-identifies as having a disability, when members of these households are planning purchases, you can be sure they take notice if accessibility efforts have been made.
Accessibility Features to Consider
Since disabilities can affect the way people interact online, web accessibility takes into account all the alternative methods of using technology. That includes keyboard input and screen readers, but also other specialized software, different web browsers, and specialty hardware like switches.
Web accessibility also takes into consideration those people who may use conventional technology to go online, but then face potential barriers once they’re there – such as poor color contrast, fonts that are hard to read when they’re enlarged, or video files that don’t have captions.
There are many accessibility features like these to consider. Many of the laws in place outline the specific technical accessibility standards required. Fortunately, there are also resources to ensure that website accessibility compliance is a straightforward process.
Website Accessibility Compliance: Standards & Laws
Not only is providing equal access a moral obligation, it’s the law.
It can be confusing and even overwhelming to determine whether your organization is covered by some or all of the laws that govern web accessibility, as well as what is required by each one, and how you can ensure you’re in compliance with the law. The best place to start is WCAG.
If you aim for the most universally accepted technical requirements for website accessibility compliance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA, you can be sure you’re providing the best, most barrier-free experience possible. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative led to the development of WCAG and subsequent updates, including the most recent WCAG 2.1. Feel free to leverage our latest WCAG Checklist to be confident that you’re in compliance.
Section 504 requires all federal government-funded programs and activities to be accessible. Section 508 requires all electronic and information and communication technology (ICT) in these programs to be accessible. In January of 2017, the Section 508 standards for ICT accessibility were updated to align with WCAG 2.0, Level AA.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires Ontario websites and web content to conform to the standards of WCAG 2.0.
And while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t specifically mention websites or website accessibility compliance, the Department of Justice has determined the ADA does apply to the online world, and U.S. courts largely agree with this interpretation.
Testing for Website Accessibility Compliance
How can you ensure that your website is in compliance with accessibility requirements?
There are a few steps you can take. If you believe you’re already in compliance, then you might test your website out with a validator or checker.
A WCAG validator is an automatic website compliance testing tool, so when you enter your URL, you’ll receive an instant report. These kinds of web accessibility checkers provide guidance – they’ll give you a fair idea of how well you’re doing – but because they’re automated and not necessarily thorough, they should be considered a baseline as you approach accessibility. They may miss accessibility gaps – and, on the other hand, are known to report problems that aren’t there.
They’re also not a repair service, so if a checker does identify barriers on your website, you will need to find a way to remediate them – and maintain your accessibility going forward.
The next step, is to turn to a qualified, experienced web accessibility partner. It’s imperative to seek out a firm that has expertise in website accessibility compliance and a proven track record.
This partner will do a thorough, human-led, hands-on audit of your website, testing all functions and environments. They also will assist and guide you with the remediation process to ensure that all aspects of your website conform to an expected standard of accessibility. Often, they offer a monitoring service to ensure you stay in compliance.
Web Compliance Doesn’t Negatively Impact Design
Those who are new to website accessibility compliance are sometimes concerned it might hamper the quality of their website. If they strive to meet all the guidelines, won’t their website’s function and creative flair suffer as a result? This just isn’t true.
Experts will tell you that design and accessibility go together seamlessly – as they should. They’ll also tell you that people with disabilities have tremendous buying power, and that making a point of engaging these customers is an approach that will pay off handsomely. That’s why we’re confident that website compliance can be appealing on many levels. It’s worth finding out more about how you can ensure that your brand is accessible – and inviting – to customers with disabilities.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can leverage eSSENTIAL Accessibility as a partner throughout your web compliance and accessibility journey, get in touch with us any time.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s innovative solution.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
What to do next
We can help you meet WCAG standards and maintain ADA and AODA compliance:
- Connect with us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to digital accessibility, including our automated and manual auditing capabilities and extensive range of managed services.
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